Trade Post: Criminal 3, Buffy 4 & Diana Prince Wonder Woman 3

CRIMINAL VOL. 3: THE DEAD AND THE DYING (Icon/Marvel)
Written by Ed Brubaker, drawn by Sean Phillips
Collects Criminal Vol. 2 #1-3
I’ve read Criminal here and there. I know there was a push at some point during the first volume to try and convince people to read the book in single issue form instead of waiting for the trade. I’m a big fan of the monthly comic book format, but I’ll be honest, I think most of Ed Brubaker’s comics work better in trade form, and usually reading several trades in a fairly short time period. You don’t have to do that with Criminal because it works in an arc system that doesn’t really crossover (maybe a few names here and there, I really can’t remember names from the first volume or if I even read the second volume).With that in mind, a Brubaker trade is usually something I really look forward to because it’s been so many months since I last read one. Unfortunately, this book was a pretty big disappointment. In the three issues, you see a heist from three different perspectives, the problem though is that, by the last issue I knew all the important parts of the story and didn’t really care about how crappy of a life the girl in the story had. I’ve read enough crime and mystery fiction to get where it was going from page one.

I will say that Phillips’ art is top notch as always. He really sets the mood and tone of the stories with details that go unnoticed at first. Plus, I liked the first issue, which followed a black boxer as he tried to set his life straight even though his former friend and current white gang leader started causing all kinds of trouble. Even that, though, felt familiar. Not like it was swiped from somewhere, but like I’d seen it or it’s parts elsewhere. If you haven’t seen or read a lot of crime or mystery movies, books or comics, I recommend checking this out. If that’s not the case, go check out the first volume of Criminal or, better yet, Brubaker and Phillips’ Sleeper for WildStorm. That’s one of the best mystery/crime/espionage/superhero comics of all time.

BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER VOL. 4: TIME OF YOUR LIFE (Dark Horse)
Written by Joss Whedon and Jeph Loeb, drawn by Karl Moline and Georges Jeanty
Collects Buffy #16-20
I’ve gone back and forth between not really caring about the Buffy comics and loving them. In the beginning, the whole story seemed a little off, but then the missus and I rewatched the whole series and I like where Whedon and Co. took the story with there being tons of slayers and Buffy being in control of all of them. And, for the most part, I’ve been pretty impressed with how well all the different writers have been at nailing that tricky Whedon-esque dialogue. Every time I pick up one of these comics, it can hear the actors and actresses’ voices easily tossing off the verbal calisthenics. My big problem has been the art. It’s not bad, but I’m often left scratching my head when a supposedly big reveal happens. “Who the hell is that?” I’ll often ask myself.

With this fourth volume of the Season 8 comics, that’s not too much of a problem as Buffy’s transported to the future where she teams up with and faces off against the future slayer Fray who starred in her own Dark Horse mini back in 2001. I will say that Whedon’s future dialogue is a bit too much at times, but all the other future stuff is pretty rad and the story fits well into current continuity while also wrapping up the Fray-verse. There’s also a big villain is interesting to see, but I think, with the end of the book, that won’t be a problem anymore. The trade also includes the one-off Jeph Loeb issue which finds current Buffy in the world of the animated series universe that never was. I actually ignored this issue the first time around because I don’t really care for Loeb’s writing generally and it seemed like a throwaway, but this time it was probably my favorite of the bunch because it put Buffy back in the early seasons of the show, but with her current thoughts, so it was kind of cool to see where she had come from and how much she’s made it through and changed (and not changed). It’s a funny little issue that’s definitely worth checking out.

DIANA PRINCE WONDER WOMAN VOL. 3 (DC)
Written & drawn by Mike Sekowsky, with Denny O’Neil and Dick Dillin
Collects Wonder Woman Vol. I #190-198 and World’s Finest #204
I’ve talked about how much I love these early 70s depowered Wonder Woman volumes here and here and that continues on with this collection. I’m blown away every issue by Sekowsky who writes and draws all of the Wonder Woman issues in this issue (O’Neil and Dillin did the World’s Finest issue). These comics are filled with the elements that I love about Roger Corman movies: crazy fights, weirdly fantastic battles and mysterious houses filled with potential murderers. I think it’s awesome that DC let Wonder Woman get played with in such a way that basically made her the hero of a different kind of genre movie every single month. I would imagine all of this was because of lagging sales, but I don’t really care, I’m just glad they happened. I will say that #194 falls short as it’s basically a Prince and the Pauper/Dave riff with Diana turning out to look just like the princess of the country. She even takes the princesses  place when she gets captured. It’s pretty by the book and not all that interesting, but it’s but one stumbling block in an overall solid collection.

One interesting thing about this collection is that it actually leaves out a big chunk of #191 is missing. Right in the middle of an epic medieval-like war in an alternate dimension, Diana sits down to tell her new friend how she came to be de-powered, but you flip the page and it says “Later.” I thought that might be how the original comic was written until that issue ended after a total of only 5 story pages. I guess it’s kind of cool that they didn’t bother with a huge recap of something in the first volume of this series as I probably would have just grazed it anyone. On the other hand, I did have to go back to the original volume and give it a flip through as it’s been quite a while since I’ve read it.

In addition to the huge amounts of enjoyment I got from reading this story, it also pushed me towards digging into the history of comics a little more. I looked up Sekowsky on Wikipedia and found some really interesting stuff about him and a fellow creator. That got me thinking about a potential story set in the days of comics past. That got me reading Comic Book Artist #9, a TwoMorrow’s mag I ordered a while back and never got around to reading. The issue focuses on Charlton Comics which is freaking fascinating. It’s packed with history and interviews that have given me even MORE ideas. It also introduced me to how amazing Dick Giordano was as an editor from the accounts of his former Charlton co-workers. There’s a 31 page interview in the issue that I was saving for last. The next day Giordano passed away. Weird timing right? Of course, as I was finishing this Wonder Woman trade, I realized I had actually seen some of Giordano’s work as an inker and cover artist. It makes me wonder if he edited this book as well, considering it’s so interesting and eclectic and clearly focuses on the writer/artist’s strengths (a hallmark of Giordano’s editing style from what I’ve read). It makes me wish there was some kind of intro in these books. Hopefully someone’s working on a big book about Giordano like that Kirby book I want to pick up.

Trade Post: Swamp Thing, Fourth World, Scalped and Wonder Woman

2008-12-11
5:32:55 am

Doesn’t look like things will be letting up any time soon and seeing as I’ve been falling asleep pretty early these days, I haven’t been able to watch many movies. I will get around to the second part of that Thanksgiving weekend round-up though, because I want to get to my Squirm and Return to Sleepaway Camp (love that movie!). But, I’ve got some time now and I’ve been doing some trade reading so here we go.

SCALPED: DEAD MOTHERS (VOL. 3) (Vertigo/DC)

Written by Jason Aaron, Drawn by John Paul Leon, R.M. Guera & Davide Furno

Scalped is one of those books that I got to late in the game and have yet to actually catch up to the monthly issues, so I’m mostly grabbing the trades from the library as they come out. I dig the story for the most part, especially because it takes me to a world that I’m otherwise unfamiliar with in the form of an Native American reservation. Plus, there’s all kinds of action and intrigue and some great names (I especially like our main character’s Dashiell Bad Horse).

This particular trade focuses mainly on Dashiell working on a dead hooker case because he promised her son that he would while others investigate his own mother’s death. There’s obviously a lot of history between Dash and pretty much everyone else on the reservation and Aaron does a good job of giving just enough details as we read to keep us from getting completely lost but also not overwhelming the reader with needles detail. It’s a harder balance to achieve than you might think. I also like how the villain of the story, Lincoln Red Crow (the guy that Dash, an undercover agent is trying to pin a murder on) is more interested in finding his mother’s killer (they used to be lovers) than Dash himself. But even he’s got problems of his own as various outside forces are trying to push and pull him and the casino he runs.

Really, that’s what I like about the series as a whole: there’s a lot going on, but not too much. Aaron’s got a great sense of pacing and knows when to throw in some kick ass action scenes to balance all the other personal aspects of the book. I’m really curious to see where the series goes (they introduced a new character in the form of honest reservation cop Franklin Falls Down who seems like he’ll have a lot of potential). I’m also looking forward to seeing how Aaron writes a long form story like this one. I’m not sure if there’s an end point in mind that he’s working towards, but I’ve only read a handful of his other books, some I liked, some I didn’t, so I hope he ends this one with a bang.

SWAMP THING: LOVE AND DEATH (DC)

Written by Alan Moore, Drawn by Stephen Bissette, John Totleben & Shawn McManus

This is the second Swamp Thing trade collecting Alan Moore’s run on the book that helped launch his career and shoot comics to whole new levels. To me, it’s one of the last few epic comic runs that I haven’t read yet, so I’m glad to finally get to it (though I don’t have any more of the trades, so we’ll see how that goes), which is too bad because I really dug this book and am curious to see where it goes.

Most of the trade follows the developing relationship between Swamp Thing and Abigale including her short-lived death. There are all kinds of horror elements bouncing around these pages, including Swamp Thing’s visit to the afterlife which boasts guest spots by Etrigan, Phantom Stranger, Deadman and the Spectre. I really like how firmly Swamp Thing takes place in the DCU, proving that you can do Vertigo type stories in the same world that Superman flies around in (Sandman also did this on a few occasions).

I’ve also got to mention the semi sex scene between Swamp Thing and Abigale at the end of the last issue. It’s not as gross as it might sound as Abby eats a fruit that Swamp Thing grows from his chest and then they go on a super-trippy ride that we become voyeurs to.

But I didn’t like everything about this collection. There’s a story called “Pog” which featured some tiny cartoon-like aliens landing on Earth hoping to find a new home to call their own. The story itself is interesting, but the problem is the dialogue. These aliens talk different, making up words that seem and sound an awful lot like English, but took me way too long to read as my brain kept trying to read the words I’m used to. Props to Alan for coming up with this new language, but it drove me a little crazy. Oh well. I’m probably going to ditch these trades in favor of the hardcovers they’re putting out shortly (or is it out yet? I dunno).

DIANA PRINCE WONDER WOMAN VOL. 2 (DC)

Written & drawn by Mike Sekowsky

Man, I love these swinging Wonder Woman issues, each one is like a Roger Corman movie starring my favorite Star Spangled Amazon (missing her stars of course). For those of you who may not know, these Diana Prince tales follow Wonder Woman around after losing her powers and becoming a kung-fu boutique owner hanging out with blind martial arts master I Ching.

This volume not only collects Wonder Woman issues, but also a Superman’s Girlfriend Lois Lane issue in which the constantly swooning Lois gets jealous of Superman spending so much time with Wonder Woman who appears to have regained her powers. There’s even this hilarious scene where Wonder Woman takes Superman to a club and he starts dancing so intensely that he almost sets the floor on fire, after which he thinks to himself: “Did I goof! I can’t forget myself for an instant! That’s the trouble with being super! I can’t relax like ordinary people!” I don’t want to ruin the ending, but it’s your average cheesy silver age stuff (which is pretty different than the rest of the trade, because this particular story was written by Robert Kanigher).

There’s also an issue of Brave and the Bold with Wonder Woman and I Ching in another country (though I don’t think they ever say which one) in which a big car race is happening. It just so happens that Bruce Wayne is also there racing along with some bad dude (his name’s not really important). Well, the bad dude tries to kill Bruce because he’s such a good driver so Bruce calls Gotham and gets his buddy Batman to come race for him. There’s actual panels with Batman driving and his cape shooting out behind him flapping in the wind. I had literally just watched a Roger Corman movie with similar themes that I had just watched (Young Racers). Man, that movie was boring (hey, look, a movie review!), but this comic is great.

The rest of the trade involves the return of Dr. Cyber along with an adventure to Hong Kong and the addition of a new young lady who Diana saves from THEM (always written in big red block letters) and then gives a job in her boutique. I really love how the series bounces around from somewhat typical superhero stuff to all kinds of other genres without missing a beat. There’s also something fun about seeing Wonder Woman mingling with Superman and Batman even back in the late 60s/early 70s. These are great books for anyone even remotely interested in Wonder Woman or movies and TV from that time period, these are the books for you.

JACK KIRBY’S FOURTH WORLD OMNIBUS (VOL. 4)

Written & drawn by Jack Kirby

I’ve had a very on again off again relationship with these New Gods Omnibi (Ominbuses?). Sometimes I’ll get really into them but then I’ll put the book down for weeks or even months at a time, which was the case with this, the last in series. The main reason is that, for reasons that are probably explained in the intro by Mark Evanier that I haven’t read yet, Jack’s books weren’t doing so well and were canned, which means this book collects the last issues of The Forever People (which I liked a lot more than I thought I would), New Gods (my personal favorite of the ongoings) and then a bunch of Mr. Miracle issues (it lasted longer than the others), the new stories Jack created for the reprints and finally the Hunger Dogs graphic novel. The problem is that it’s like watching a TV show that you know doesn’t have a real ending, one that got canceled before it’s time; all the pieces are good, but you’re not sure about the pay off.

I read the FP and NG issues completely but ended up skimming the Mr. Miracle stuff as it wasn’t really my favorite of the books. I did enjoy the final two stories though, because it felt like Jack was finally able to tell the story that he intended to tell years before. But, man, just think of how cool it would have been to see Jack get to do his thing for real. It’s too bad because it feels like that’s a huge missed opportunity, a story only preserved in the library of unwritten books. Oh well, I really like Hunger Dogs, especially the big huge collage spread that Jack did in the middle of it. Check it out and see how many Star Wars pictures you can find (I spotted the rear end of a Star Destroyer first).

Anyway, there’s a pretty interested ending to Hunger Dogs that I’m not really sure how it was resolved later on when the New Gods re-entered the DCU. I did have a basic history explained to me by Rickey. He said that, basically, Jack created the New Gods, but after he left they just kind of sat around and no one used them until the Super Powers cartoon came along and was looking for a villain. They dug up Darkseid and he’s been a dominating force of evil in the DCU ever since. For someone who’s been reading comics since the early 90s, it’s pretty crazy to think that there was a time when Darkseid and the rest of the New Gods weren’t a big deal.

And finally, if you’re like I was when I first started reading these books and think that these older stories don’t really offer up much to a modern, more sophisticated reader, give them a try. Sean Collins helped me realize what I liked about these stories even when I wasn’t quite sure if I actually liked them. The true art isn’t in the words (the dialogue boxes are pretty easily skipped for the most part in my opinion), but in the art and the emotions and gut punches that Kirby is able to convey with his trademark pencils. Plus, if you can’t find a certain amount of giddy joy in tracing the lines of a Kirby machine, I feel bad for you.

Okay, that’s it for now. Hopefully I’ll get another post in this week, but I wouldn’t hold my breath if I were you (seriously, that’d be crazy).

The Incredible Wonder Woman

2008-05-19
2:27:43 am

Like I said during my review of Demon in a Bottle, I didn’t really read a lot of older comics, especially pre-Crisis DC stuff. I used to feel like if it didn’t matter as far as continuity is concerned then why bother? I also assumed, wrongfully, that a lot of the books from back then were too corny to be read. I’ve been proven wrong plenty of times since getting to Wizard and having access to the library. So, with that in mind, I decided to give DC’s recent Diana Prince: Wonder Woman Volume 1 trade a whirl.

Diana Prince: Wonder Woman Volume 1 (1968-1969)

Written by Denny O’Neil and Mike Sekowsky

Drawn by Mike Sekowsky

Collects Wonder Woman Volume 1 #178-183

Okay, so, there’s no intro in this book to give any context as to what the heck was going on in Wonder Woman before the trade starts, so it’s a jump-in-the-pool-and-swim situation. Also, I read this book over a few weeks, picking it up and putting it down as other things came across my plate, so my memory might be a little fuzzy (well, fuzzier than usual).

We open with Wonder Woman’s love interest Steve Trevor getting picked up by the cops on murder charges. Like any good girlfriend, Wonder Woman sets out to find out what’s really going on, but thinks that rolling out as WW might be a little too obvious so she goes out as Diana Prince and gets herself some very mod clothes. And man, does Sekowsky revel in the psychedelic backgrounds and clothing, which unintentionally transport modern readers back to the time period this book was being created in (or at least what we like to think the ’60s were like). Diana/Wonder Woman figure out what’s really going on with Steve and everything’s okay.

Then in order to get Steve out of the way for some time, Steve Trevor gets sent out on a secret mission to infiltrate Doctor Cyber’s criminal ring that makes him look like traitor. In the same issue Diana gets word from her mother that the Greek gods are moving to another dimension to rest up. Diana agrees to stay in our dimension to continue helping mankind, a decision that strips her of all her powers.

It’s pretty crazy to think that they were trying things like this back in the day. We’re used to it by now, but can you imagine if they stripped Superman of his powers back then? From what I can remember, the ’60s were a pretty rough time for DC’s superhero comics (what with those upstart Marvel Comics coming out), so it seems like this was DC’s way of trying to keep readers who were into the martial arts and spy fiction of the time. I’d like to think that it’s the kind of book that would have sparked my interest if I was reading comics back then (I got into comics with the death of Superman, Batman getting his back broken, Wonder Woman becoming a red head and Green Lantern going crazy).

So, Diana Prince finds herself powerless on a world she still doesn’t quite understand, having to worry about things like food and rent. Luckily for her, an old blind Asian dude is getting accosted by some hoods right outside her new place, she jumps in to help him, but he proves a formidable foe and easily dispatches the criminals. The man’s name is Ching (sometimes called I Ching, though I’m not sure if that’s part of his actual name or just the way he talks) and he’s on Dr. Cyber’s tail too. By the way, yeah, Morrison recently brought Ching back in the Resurrection of Ra’s al Ghul. So in exchange for Diana’s help in tracking them down, he’ll train Diana in the martial arts in some really freakin’ cool splash pages.

Have I mentioned how much I like Sekowsky? I’d never heard of him before picking this trade up, but the artist turned writer (O’Neil left a little over half-way through the book) wowed me to the point where I’d give just about anything he drew a shot. And of course, Denny O’Neil is one of those incredibly prolific writers that I’ve read and enjoyed for years.

Back to the story, Ching and Diana spend a few more issues going back and forth with Doctor Cyber’s evil ladies, accompanied by Tim Trench for a while. Trench fills the roll of the hardned private dick who’s ready to help until something more profitable shows up. Again, I really enjoy the different genres that O’Neil and Sekowsky played with. The next guy that comes along ends up betraying Diana and Ching to Dr. Cyber, leading Diana to beat him within an inch of his life. For some reason, Cyber (who, by the way, is a woman, even though they assumed it was a man for the first few issues, I assume this was way more of shock back then) leaves her to beat on him.

Distraught, Diana runs out of the house. By this time Sekowsky was flying solo in the writing department and the combination of his words and pencils really reveal the betrayal that Diana feels as she collapses in the street from exhaustion only to be approached by an Amazon asking her to return with her to the Amazon’s new dimension. Diana agrees and brings Ching with her.

It turns out that Diana’s grandfather Ares wants Hippolyta’s secret of interdimensional travel which only she holds. Hippolyta refused, so Ares’ sister puts her in a coma after fighting the first battle in a war of the gods (no, not that one). The Amazons brought Diana back to fill her mother’s role as general of the Amazonian army, a roll which she fills with gusto, leading them into battle against Ares’ monster army.

But Diana and the Amazons realize they’re no match for the god’s armies. Diana comes up with a plan: to travel to the dimension of history’s heroes and ask them to come to the Amazon’s aid. The dimension-hopping Amazon takes her there only to find that the heroes are sick of fighting for no personal gain. Luckily the Valkyries offer to fight side by side with the Amazon’s against the hordes of Ares, even though they know they can not win. The combined forces do a serviceable job defending themselves, but still fight a losing battle, until the heroes eventually show up and turn the tide in their favor. With Diana’s mother restored, Ares admits his defeat and leaves the Amazons be, for now. In the end, Ching opts to stay with the Amazons for a while as Diana returns to her adoptive home.

Overall I really liked this book. It’s a great mix of genres with a number of rad stories, some fantastic art and a good balance of action and mythology that plenty of other Wonder Woman writers have aimed for and missed. By stripping Diana down to her bare bones, O’Neil and Sedowsky really showed me why Diana is a great character. My only problem with the story is that this strong woman who we’ve seen grow as a person, a fighter and a warrior needs a group of men riding in on their horses to save the day, even though I love the idea of a dimension filled with heroes (like a hero heaven). Maybe it’s just those women’s lit classes I took in college kicking in, but it does seem to take a little bit away from the story. I can’t wait for the next volume to hit shelves (and by shelves I mean the Wizard library).